February 19, 2013

PM: I was prepared to give BBC men a comment

“I am not at the beck and call of a journalist, I just could not talk to them on Friday or anytime that evening, but was prepared to give the men a comment.” {{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves made that comment yesterday, one day after being accosted in Barbados on a LIAT flight by BBC journalists Matthew Hill and Paul Kenyon, while en route to the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Haiti.

Calling in to Star Radio from Haiti yesterday, Gonsalves said he had been told, on Friday by his secretary, that the journalists were seeking an interview with him, and that they had been investigating Dave Ames, chairman of Harlequin Hotels and Resorts for over seven months.

“Well, if you could have waited seven months, you could have waited a few extra days if you wanted to hear me,” the Prime Minister said.

“But to come to me on a plane, as I am about to take my bag from the overhead bin, among people, accosting me; in fact, they barred me coming off the plane, with the way in which they had stood up,” Gonsalves explained.

The Prime Minister said that he was simply too busy last Friday to see the journalists.

Speaking on Sunday on the matter, from Antigua, while making his way to Haiti, Gonsalves told a WE FM call in show that he knew about the request for a meeting for the first time when he returned to his office, last Friday, just before 5 p.m.

“I spent practically the whole day; I left the morning at about 10:30 from Kingstown and I went to the 20th birthday of Sweet-I Robertson…I got back up about 5 (minutes) to 5, as I was beginning to prepare to host a cocktail for the vice chancellor for the University of the West Indies and others,” he said.

“I told my secretary to tell the gentleman who had called that I could meet them, but it was not convenient today,” Gonsalves continued,The Prime Minister said the men said that would not be convenient, as they were leaving the following day.

“I said well, the next time I am going to be available is Friday next week (this week), because I am coming in from Haiti on Thursday evening. Ten minutes later, another of my secretaries called and said that they are saying that it appears as though I am avoiding them. I am not avoiding them,” he continued.

However, the prime minister contended that there were other ways of contacting him, including calling the press secretary Hans King or the communications director Elson Crick.

Explaining what transpired on the plane on Sunday, Gonsalves said that he was sitting in the front left of the plane, next to his wife, Eloise, with Ambassador Ellsworth John seated on the right.

“Behind Ellsworth were seated two white men, I didn’t know who they were, but as soon as we arrived in Barbados and I was getting my luggage from the top drawer of the plane, one came with a camera and the other one with a tape recorder and began by asking this question,” Gonsalves said.

He said the men started off with a comment that there were three witnesses that Dave Ames, chairman and owner of Harlequin Resorts, owner of Buccama Bay Resort came to his office with a briefcase of money and then left without it.

They then asked him what he had to say.

“Well, at that point, I reasonably suspected what I had been told, that two journalists from Britain, allegedly from the BBC had come to St Vincent to carry out investigations about the Buccament project, because as you are aware, some questions are being raised by some investors in the United Kingdom, some investors into the project.

“I said to them…, ‘You can properly set up an interview with me. This is not the way to do it.’ They said ‘But no, we want to ask you the questions.’ Of course, I can’t stop them from asking. They repeated. I continued doing what I was doing, I went to the door; they continued to ask and I said to them ‘Why are you asking this kind of rubbish, nonsense, foolishness, idiocy?

“In between, they were asking me why I don’t explain to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines about Mr Ames.”

Gonsalves said, after they repeated their questions and ignored his requests to stop, he said nothing further to the two men, but they continued filming, despite being told by Barbadian security that it was illegal to do so.

The men eventually identified themselves as journalists for the BBC, Gonsalves said.

“But I didn’t bother with them. I went on my way because they acted in such an unprofessional manner.

“And I am going to write the BBC, because I am no less a prime minister than Blair, Brown and Cameron to accost me like that,” Gonsalves said.

Both men are employed with the BBC. Kenyon is an award winning journalist and author who has reported from around the world for the BBC, and Hill a television producer.

Both men work on the BBC original television current affairs documentary show, Panorama which is also the longest running public affairs television programme.

Up to press time efforts to reach Kenyon and Hill for comment proved futile. (DD)